Non-smoking airports—the reason for thousands of grumpy travelers

Ever since cities and countries started banning smoking in workplaces, pubs and restaurants, and, most recently, in most outside public places (like New York and Chicago, for example, have done in city parks), airports have followed—whether on their own or being forced by governments—suit. But what the legislators, campaigners and activists can’t possibly comprehend is that smoking bans at airports is the biggest contributor to grumpy, miserable air travelers.

There are hundreds of airports in the world that have banned smoking completely inside terminals. Moreover, most of those airports don’t even allow smoking outside in most places, having designated smaller areas away from everything that matters for those with the habit. So, the moment you walk through security, you’re pretty much fucked. The only way to enjoy a cigarette in these airports is exiting the secure area and then putting yourself through the misery of going through security again.

On the other hand, there are a few airports in the world still allowing enjoyment for those of us addicted to nicotine. Atlanta, for example, has smoking lounges all over the airport—apart from concourse D, for some peculiar reason, but even there is a bar where you can get a refreshing drink and enjoy a refreshing cigarette. Frankfurt, Germany, is also one of those out-of-this-world airports that has smoking lounges. Tallinn, Estonia, too. Or, in the U.S., apart from Atlanta come to mind Tampa, Florida, and Washington’s Dulles. Even New York’s LaGuardia airport allows smoking after security.

And then there are the ones that don’t have any smoking facilities inside the terminal buildings. Chicago’s O’Hare, for example, one of the biggest airports in the world. None of the airports in the Greater London area in the UK have any, either. Berlin’s Schönefeld airport is another notorious example, especially because Frankfurt, which is located in the same country, does have smoking lounges.

My latest experience of a non-smoking airport is Anchorage, Alaska. What makes this airport’s approach especially ironic, is that on its website it says, “We want to make your travel experience at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport a pleasant one. For this reason, we have a wide range of services and facilities to best serve you.” And on the same page, the website adds, quite casually, “Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport is a non-smoking facility, as such, smoking is not permitted anywhere inside the terminal buildings.”

So how exactly are you making my travel experience a pleasant one when you deny me something I desperately crave for?

Now I understand non-smokers’ despise for us. I understand non-smokers’ desire to have a smoke-free environment. I do my best not to smoke in the vicinity of people who detest the smell. I don’t want to poison other people who don’t want to be poisoned.

Yes, I understand.

But I also think that if you’re accommodating the needs of some, you’re not really accommodating the needs of all. And, by creating hundreds, if not thousands of people who are miserable, irritable, even angry during their flights (which can by themselves be insanely long these days) you contribute to the unpleasantness of other travelers who have to put up with nervous and angry people on their flights. Why do this? Why make the non-smokers miserable by making the smokers miserable? Where exactly is the logic?

However, here’s the thing. The international conspiracy—for the lack of a better characterization—against smokers is exactly what it is. It’s not about public health, it’s not about making the lives of non-smokers better, it’s not about protecting people from the dangers of second-hand smoking.

It’s about one thing and one thing only—making the lives of smokers miserable. Which is outrageously idiotic, because if we’d all quit, where would you get all the tax dollars that we pay as tobacco excise? Wouldn’t that eventually result in raising other taxes, and potentially the taxes of viceless people?

There is a very simple solution to accommodating both smokers and non-smokers in airports. Interestingly, the first place I encountered this was in Auckland, New Zealand—one of the first countries in the world that introduced an overall ban on smoking in public places, and yet a country that doesn’t think smokers are some sort of lower life forms that don’t have any rights or needs. What the folks at Auckland airport did was—they built a smoking area outside.

So, you’re inside the terminal building. You’re past security, just a few steps away from your gate. And yet, you can step outside for a cigarette. Amazing, isn’t it?

A similar concept was adapted by Tampa airport in Florida. There’s a door right next to a bar inside the secure area, and you can sit down and enjoy a nice puff before your longer or shorter flight.

Tampa airport's smoking area.

Tampa airport’s smoking area.

You’re not on the tarmac, you’re a fair distance away from aircraft and fuel fumes. You’re on a balcony or a patio that is fenced off, so crazy people wouldn’t run amok on the runway. You’re outside, so there’s no need to build glass boxes and expensive low-pressure air-conditioning systems. You’re outside, just like in your back yard.

If it’s raining, it doesn’t matter. If it’s snowing, it doesn’t matter. If there’s a hurricane outside, you might not be able to light your cigarette, but it doesn’t matter. We, smokers, are sub-human anyway in today’s world. But, at least, with smoking areas like this, we wouldn’t he treated as not human at all.

The only reason such outside smoking areas don’t exist in every non-smoking airport in the world is the constant, outrageous, and dangerously prevalent attitude against smoking and smokers in general. It’s the anti-smoking activists’ and governments’ blatant campaign to wipe out every earthly pleasure people might take up. Soon it’s going to be alcohol (it’s already on the way); chocolate; fat; sex (remember Demolition Man?)…

Yes, smoking is a nasty habit. Yes, it’s harmful for you. But it’s the smokers’ choice to smoke. And it’s still legal. And, an outside smoking area does not, I repeat, does not hurt any non-smokers (the same thing goes for outside open spaces, by the way; take note, New York and Chicago). What it does, though, is considerably reduce the amount of otherwise nice people turned into miserable and angry assholes on aircraft because they couldn’t enjoy their last puff before their 12-hour flight; or get some relief during a four-hour layover in Seattle after a three-hour flight and before a six-hour one.

Airports—build outside smoking areas in the terminals near the gates. You will have a lot more happy travelers and none of the non-smokers will be unhappy. Unless they’re natural pricks, but then they just are that way and should walk to places instead of flying in the first place.

(Ah, yes. I did claim in a blog post last year I had quit smoking. Well, that lasted for three and a half months. Hey, I’m an addict. So sue me. I still have rights.)

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The wealthy benevolence of Donald Trump

Back in the day when the prospect of Donald Trump becoming the Republican nominee for president sounded like—in fact, was—a bad joke, there already were people who supported the New York businessman’s presidential bid. Interestingly enough, the first person who wholeheartedly supported the man I met in California, a state where Republicans in general are about as scarce as non-hybrid taxicabs, for the lack of a better comparison.

The Trump supporter—let’s call him Dave, which may or may not have been his real name (I really don’t remember)—was my next-door neighbor, a native Hawaiian who had lived in California for a considerable amount of time. And one time I found us chatting in the parking lot about the prospective GOP nominees when he expressed his support for The Donald.

What came next was probably the most surreal argument for supporting any candidate in a democratic republic: Dave liked Trump because Trump, apparently, was benevolent.

Dave’s argument was that since Donald Trump was filthy rich, and since he grew up being filthy rich, and since he inherited all that wealth (i.e. didn’t have to work for it), he, for some reason, was benevolent in the sense of a king or a czar or an emperor, and would thus rule with a “benevolent” iron fist—probably as opposed to a malevolent one.

This is not a direct quote, but it went something like this: “All the other candidates are not rich or did not grown up being rich, so where does their benevolence come from?” As faulty as this entire argument is—as I said, America is a republic, not a kingdom—the one question I didn’t get an answer to was (if we toss aside all the absurdities in that claim), why on earth would a president even need to be benevolent? The U.S. president, an elected head of government, needs to be smart, efficient, diplomatic, charismatic, etc., etc.—but he sure as hell doesn’t need to be benevolent, whatever that might in today’s context even mean.

For some reason I remembered this discussion today when I was reading an article in today’s New York Times that had a very deep and profound look into the campaign of Donald Trump.

Here’s an excerpt:

On the more conventional presidential campaigns I have covered — George W. Bush, John McCain, Mitt Romney — the candidate’s mobile inner sanctum was a hive of activity, the advisers hovering constantly over their boss, rattling off the latest polling data or words of unsolicited advice from a big donor. On Trump’s plane, the aides spoke when spoken to and otherwise kept to their labors on their laptops.

Yes. Aides speaking when spoken to is, indeed, very king-like. But is it benevolent? Only when we think of Donald Trump as a pharaoh, the all-knowing deity who you just don’t address unless he addresses you.

Donald Trump speaking at a rally. Photo: Gage Skidmore/Wikipedia

Donald Trump speaking at a rally. Photo: Gage Skidmore/Wikipedia

Or, what about your campaign manager addressing you as “sir”? The campaign manager is, basically, the closest person to the candidate in any campaign—he’s pretty close to being your best friend. If in a private conversation you’re not Donald (or even Don), but sir, then there is either something substantially wrong with your relationship, or you seriously think of yourself as a pharaoh. No wonder Corey Lewandowski is so angry at his life that he needs to get into physical fights with random people on campaign trail—his life sucks big time; and he knows perfectly well that after being Donald Trump’s campaign manager, his future is either very rosy in the White House, or, a lot more probably, a grumpy old former political advisor nobody in the world would ever hire.

And here’s another thing—if Donald Trump is “benevolent” because he’s filthy rich, then what if he really isn’t? Rich, I mean. He says he is. He says he’s worth over ten billion dollars. But the New Yorker magazine, partly quoting the Wall Street Journal’s recent analysis, begs to differ:

Take the Journal’s estimate of Trump’s pre-tax income in 2016: $160 million. Applying a federal tax rate of twenty per cent to this figure—and that’s a pretty low rate—would bring it down to $128 million. Grant and Mullins didn’t put a figure on Trump’s over-all wealth, but one simple way to value any business is to capitalize the income that it generates using an earnings multiple. If you take a multiple of twenty (which is high) and apply it to $128 million, you get a figure of $2.56 billion. Obviously, that’s a long way from ten billion dollars.

Again, from the New Yorker:

Forbes concluded that Trump was worth about $4.5 billion, while Bloomberg estimated $2.9 billion. The Forbes figure was high enough to put Trump in a tie at No. 324 on the magazine’s global ranking of billionaires. But far from thanking the magazine for this designation, which placed him alongside people like George Lucas, the creator of “Star Wars,” and Leon Black, the private-equity investor, Trump was furious that his own estimate had been contradicted. “I think you’re trying to make me as poor as possible,” he told Forbes in October.

Naturally, these are just the analysts’ guestimates. But Donald Trump’s constant refusal to publish his tax returns leave ample ground to do exactly that—guess. And besides, if he actually were as rich as he claims to be, and as effective business leader as he says he is, then there would be no reason to hide his returns. In fact, the only reason to hide his returns is because he knows he’s either a lot poorer than he claims to be, or he has other aspects of his finances to hide.

Admitted, even if he’s worth 2.9 billion dollars, he’s still filthy rich. But why, then, lie about it? Is “benevolence” also in making oneself seem bigger and better than one really is? Or is this yet again a pharaoh-like behavior that is all about the ego and has nothing to do with actual benevolence?

The bottom line, of course, is that Donald Trump’s wealth doesn’t really matter in what he’s trying to accomplish for himself—and only himself (he doesn’t give a rat’s ass for America, or for its people; becoming president is only about him proving himself). One can be a kind person when one’s rich or poor; and one can be a profound asshole when one’s wealthy or penniless. Since the United States of America isn’t electing a king, one’s wealth-related benevolence or malevolence doesn’t matter one tiny bit.

But what matters is people’s belief in values that should not have a place in a democratic country, in a republic where the persons in power are elected the people who hold the ultimate say, the ultimate power. Whether Donald Trump is benevolent because he’s wealthy, or malevolent because he’s not as wealthy as he says—or, as common sense dictates, neither—what matters is what he does. And so far, what he does has been as repulsive as a dog owner refusing to pick up their dog’s feces from the street because they think they’re too privileged to live by the norms we the people have adopted for everyone’s better accommodation.

That’s not benevolence, that’s just being an asshole.

(Cross-posted on

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Marco Rubio in Kennesaw, GA

The biggest Marco Rubio rally so far, held in Kennesaw, Georgia, on February 27, 2016. Over 5,000 people attended.

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The story of how a Jew and an Armenian took down the Catholic church

“Spotlight” movie poster.

When the Boston Globe in 2002 started publishing its stories about the widespread child abuse in the Catholic church in Boston and elsewhere in the United States, and how the church had, for decades, systematically and villainously buried the issue without any regard to the victims and—moreover—to future victims, I was a journalist. Don’t get me wrong, I was nowhere close to the investigative minds of the Boston Globe or any other newspaper for that matter. I was just a simple online journalist at a national newspaper in a small European country. But as that simple online journalist, it was my job to report on this, and other news, to our readership, day in, day out.

First it was the Globe, then other newspapers followed. First it was the United States, then other countries followed. For an online journalist, this was months and years of translating and reporting on news on a subject no one really wanted to have happened—and the news just kept pouring in.

Most people—even most journalists, at least outside the U.S.—don’t even know who are Marty Baron, Ben Bradlee, Jr., “Robbie” Robinson, Mike Rezendes, etc. I knew. I knew back then, and when I was watching “Spotlight” yesterday, it was a nice realization that those people didn’t occur as total strangers to me—even though I have never had the honor of meeting any of them. But having read probably everything this team wrote on the Catholic church child abuse scandal, I felt like I could actually call these people my colleagues.

That is what “Spotlight” essentially is. It’s a nostalgia movie for all former journalists who, at the time the scandal erupted, worked as reporters, editors, or even editors-in-chief. It brings back sweet memories of working in a fast-paced news environment; the frustrations of not getting things right when you had the best intentions in mind; the eager thirst for information and the hard work we put in to get it from reluctant sources. It reminds us that we might have not been the useless hacks people often thought we were, and sometimes even made us feel like. It reaffirms every journalist’s belief that the responsibility we have (or had) to tell people the truth, only truth and nothing but the truth is the absolute obligation and nothing should ever distract us from it. And, it also reminds us that we’re still people and therefore not infallible.

The story of the movie is really simple. A new editor-in-chief takes over the Boston Globe and finds a news clip about a priest who had abused children. Believing it’s a far bigger issue (and mind you, not just a story, but an issue), he instructs the newspaper’s team of investigative reporters—the Spotlight team—to investigate it further. He suspects that the root of the problem doesn’t lie in only the fact that priests abuse children, but that the Catholic church systematically and viciously—and with the direct knowledge of Cardinal Bernard Francis Law—sweeps these cases under the rug, allowing the priests to be endlessly recycled between congregations where they continue molesting children, until they’re again recycled to another congregation.

What the Spotlight reporters uncover is history. They realize that everything the editor, Marty Baron (portrayed by Liev Schreiber), had suspected, was actually true, and even more widespread than just Boston, or just the U.S. For years after the Globe’s discovery, newspapers all over the world were writing about similar cases by the hundreds, if not thousands. And, most importantly, the work of the Boston Globe reporters forced the Catholic church to change its practices in recycling priests, and to pay the victims of those priests’ crimes substantial amounts in damages.

Another character in the movie, however, is a lawyer called Mitch Garabedian (Stanley Tucci)—and that’s a name I had either forgotten or had never known. He was one of the early sources for Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), a Globe reporter. Garabedian represented—and still continues to represent—some of the priests’ victims in their cases against the church. With his help, the Globe reporters discovered the extent of the abuse in the church and the fact without which the scandal wouldn’t have had even close to the effect it had—that the Cardinal and the rest of the church hierarchy had always known what was going on and did absolutely nothing.

The reporters of the Boston Globe Spotlight team in the movie.

The reporters of the Boston Globe Spotlight team in the movie.

Now I have no idea whether this conversation ever took place or was it just a dramatization, but in “Spotlight,” it was Garabedian himself who pointed out the fact that Marty Baron was Jewish and he himself was an Armenian—two outsiders of the Catholic church, and therefore it was much easier for them to actually bring the scandal to light and tell the world about it. That was again something I hadn’t known while covering how the scandal unfolded fourteen years ago—that the city of Boston was so tightly under the church’s control that for the city insiders, no matter how much they could’ve tried or how righteous they were, it was close to impossible to uncover and report on even smaller cases that hurt the church, let alone something that would send shockwaves through the church, its followers, and the entire world. And that wasn’t only because the church itself did everything it possibly and impossibly could to curb the flow of information, but because the city insiders of Boston couldn’t even consider starting a war with the Catholic church—the church they had been born into.

So “Spotlight” is a story of how an Armenian lawyer and a Jewish journalist did what the locals couldn’t. They brought down the Catholic church and uncovered a scandal that is still remembered as one of the most outrageous events in the history of any religion. They helped the local journalists realize that no matter how hard it would be to bring down the Catholic system and give justice to the thousands of victims, it can be done and has to be done.

And done it was.

Spotlight, 10/10

(Cross-posted on

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A more perfect union — or a marriage of convenience


Chris Christie and Barack Obama.

After Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast of the United States in 2012, we all had the chance to see the photo of president Barack Obama and New Jersey governor Chris Christie walking almost hand in hand through some of the areas the storm hit. Moreover, governor Christie praised president Obama and his response to the hurricane.

At that time, I saw some of my Democratic-leaning friends expressing their warm feelings towards Christie, saying things along the lines of, “Nice to see there’s one normal Republican” and “Christie proves not all Republicans are bad,” etc. Mind you, I’m paraphrasing, but that was the sentiment. And y’all know who you are.

On February 26, 2016, Chris Christie, the same governor of New Jersey, “a state I have little interest in or affection for,” as Arnold Rothstein said to Nucky Thompson on Boardwalk Empireendorsed the New York real estate developer, Donald Trump, for president. This same Chris Christie, the one liked by some of the moderate Republicans and many centrist Democrats alike, suddenly endorses the candidate who, at least in everything he says, and based on the fact that even the Ku Klux fucking Klan endorses him, is the arch right-wing extremist. I mean, we’re talking about a man who wants to build an actual wall on the U.S.-Mexico border (that just last night got ten feet taller”; the man who wants to deport all 11 million illegal immigrants and “let the good ones in again;” the man who insults absolutely anyone he can think of; the man who is seriously talking about killing Muslims with bullets dipped in pig’s blood… The list goes on.

Chris Christie, the guy who gets praised by Democrats for being friendly towards the Democrats, including the Democratic president, suddenly endorses a huge sack of shit who’s only talk and no substance. A sack of shit who, without heritance, would be, as Marco Rubio pointed out yesterday, selling watches in Manhattan.

It doesn’t add up, does it?


Unless the conspiracy theory that Donald Trump is a plant by the Hillary Clinton campaign to considerably mess up the Republican primary race and help make Hillary Clinton president is actually… true.

Now I have said on numerous occasions that I hate conspiracy theories. But considering that this is probably the dirtiest presidential primary race in the recorded history, I am starting to see some truths in this one. And maybe it’s not even a conspiracy theory. Maybe it’s just a theory.

When we look at the general election polls, the ones for the potential race of Trump vs. Clinton indicate quite clearly that Hillary would win. When we look at the Democratic delegate count, it’s almost certain Hillary will be the nominee. And, as horrendous as it is, Donald Trump might actually end up being the Republican nominee. Hillary’s success is pretty understandable because — even despite all her shortcomings — there are more people who hate the Donald than the ones who hate Hillary. So at the end of the day, even people who resent such a terrifying choice, will hold their breath and vote for Hillary. And we’ll end up with another at least four years of Obama, potentially even worse.

And let’s look at another scenario. Imagine if Bernie Sanders were to win the Democratic nomination. There is no chance in hell (unless it freezes over, and it rarely does) that the American people would elect an open communist president. So, if the general election ends up being Bernie vs. the Donald, the latter is going to be president. But no harm done to the Democratic Party as in the form of Donald Trump, the country will still have a president who is a lot closer to the Democratic ideals than he is to the Republican.

Marco Rubio pointing out Donald Trump's shortcomings at the GOP primary debate on February 25.

Marco Rubio pointing out Donald Trump’s shortcomings at the GOP primary debate on February 25.

It’s not in vain Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz have both accused Donald Trump of being a closet Democrat. Many of his positions are a lot closer to the Democratic ones than his own supposed party. He has always gotten along with the Democrats better than with the Republicans. He has always given thousands of dollars to the Democrats and close to none to the Republicans. He wants to expand many of the policies of Barack Obama at the time the Republican field wants to curb or outright repeal them. It was especially clear after the last night’s GOP debate that Donald Trump is in the wrong party. Based on his ideas and ideals, he’d make a perfect candidate on the other side of the aisle.

There might be another misconception about the Donald. Many people, including myself, think or have thought that Donald Trump is a massive fucking moron. But what if he’s not? What if he’s actually smart and he’s actually deliberately and very calculatingly saying all the horrendous things that he has been saying? What if he deliberately behaves the way he does, insulting everyone and appearing to the crowd as “the only one who speaks the truth”, thus gaining a solid following that does exactly what the Hillary campaign expects him to do?

I do admit, it is a long shot. The way he acts, the way he speaks, the things he says, his grimaces and body language indicate very clearly that we’re dealing with an unstable person who should be under medication, locked away in the dungeons of the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, in a cell between the ones of that crazy fuck Miggs and Hannibal Lecter. But he’s not, is he. That one leaves room for wondering.

So, as Super Tuesday looms upon us, let’s all take a moment thinking about this. I have friends on both sides of the aisle, and I am not even trying to convert the lefty ones. You will make your choice between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton according to your conscience. But you, the ones voting in the Republican primaries, please do the humanity a favor and think very, very hard who you’re giving your support to.

(Full disclosure. All of the above I just saw in a dream. It was a bad dream, but nevertheless a dream. Including the title of this blog post. Nobody can sue nobody for having a dream, right? I mean, even that yellow-haired, orange-faced motherfucker can’t, right?)

Cross-posted on

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Here’s to another step in healthy living

Normally, this photo would have included a cigarette, too. Not any more.

Normally, this photo would have included a cigarette, too. Not any more.

Today a month ago I gave up one of the biggest loves of my life. I quit smoking.

It kind of seemed the next logical thing to do, after losing all my excess weight and starting to lead a reasonably healthy lifestyle. I mean, we all know smoking is bad for you, so why poison ourselves needlessly, right?

Wrong. The downside of quitting smoking is that once you’re hooked—both the nicotine and the activity of smoking—it actually becomes one of the greatest pleasures of life. Giving up something that has its claws in you so strongly can prove to be one of the biggest challenges you have to encounter.

Every smoker knows it. Even the great writer, Mark Twain, once said, “Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done it thousands of times.” So have I. Maybe not thousands, but countless of times indeed.

I smoked since I was around 12. First only a little, secretly, hiding it from everyone apart from the friends I smoked with. Then more, and more publicly. First, I wasn’t hooked at all. Then, in time, I realized I couldn’t be without puffing anymore. It’s like a disease that will always be there. It is a disease.

But this time I decided to go all the way, no matter how hard it would be. The doctor told me already a year ago I had to quit, but we came up with a compromise—I would first start exercising, and then eventually move on to the quitting smoking part. Well, the time to deal with the smoking addiction had arrived.

I had used an electronic cigarette for years already, alongside with the traditional, burning tobacco one. So when I decided to start thinking about quitting entirely, I first quit tobacco and only puffed the electronic cigarette—to help me get the tobacco chemicals out of my body. I wasn’t sure if that would help—but I definitely knew that the previous times I had quit tobacco it hadn’t lasted, so I had to do something differently this time.

So, I only smoked—or, rather, vaped—the electronic cigarette for a couple of months. And then, in the evening of September 4th, 2015, I put the vaper and the e-liquid into my drawer for good.

The first two-three days after quitting nicotine entirely were the most miserable. I couldn’t feel comfortable, whatever I did; I was restless, anxious, something was missing; and I was insanely hungry. In fact, I gained about six pounds in weight by the end of my first day. But in about five to seven days I started to lose the weight again, I started to eat less, and my normal exercise regimen certainly helped wane off the extra pounds.

If I compare my last quitting experience with some of the earlier ones, I have to say, it went a hell of a lot easier this time—and I think it’s thanks to the fact I stopped consuming tobacco months before I quit nicotine entirely. But that is not to say I don’t still think about smoking. Every now and then I get this sensation that I should grab my e-cigarette, only to realize a fraction of a second later that I don’t smoke anymore. It’s not a physical addiction that gets to me, it’s the emotional one now—the one that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

When we’re addicts, we will always be addicts, even after we’ve given up the substance we’re addicted to. But this addict is actually looking forward to an addiction-free rest of his life.

Oh, and I am immensely proud of myself.

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!שנה טובה

!שנה טובה

!שנה טובה

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How ridesharing has changed our lives for the better

She lives in the Sunset. It’s a neighborhood in west San Francisco, six-seven miles from the downtown area. BART, the Bay Area’s rapid transit system, as it’s called, doesn’t go there. Some buses probably do, but it’s a massive hassle to get there anyway.

Let’s call her Mrs. Johnson, even though it’s not her real name. She’s about 40 years old, lives with her husband, works downtown and occasionally goes out with friends and coworkers. When after a night out she wants to get home, she hails a cab. She gets into a cab and tells the driver her destination.

The cabbie refuses to take her. Even to the extent of kicking her out of the cab. “Once he already started driving and when I told him I wanted to go to the Sunset, he stopped and told me to get out. He literally refused to take me.”

The reason to that is, the cabbie would probably not find a fare back, and would have to return empty. Even though the ride would have been at least $50, driving back empty is something cabbies don’t want to do. It’s illegal for taxi drivers to refuse to take a customer to their destination, but they simply don’t care. Driving seven miles without a fare is, apparently, a bigger issue than the legality of their actions and the very fact that their only purpose of existence is providing a service. For money.

He—let’s call him Mr. Thompson—is legally blind. He has a service dog, a nice Labrador retriever who helps him get around. He mostly takes public transport—buses, BART, etc. But now and then he needs to take a cab. And he can’t, because most taxi drivers refuse to let the dog into their cars. Even though it’s illegal to refuse a ride for a service animal, the cabbies don’t care, because they prefer not getting dog hair in their cars, which they would later have to clean up. And that, apparently, is a bigger issue than the legality of their actions.

These are just a few stories among hundreds I’ve heard about the absolute outrageousness that is called the taxi industry. It’s a well-known fact that cabbies are, in general, among the most careless drivers anywhere in the world. They’re often rude, they don’t care about traffic regulation or other drivers, and they most certainly don’t give a rat’s ass about the clients they’re supposed to serve. I’m generalizing, yes, but about 90 percent of the taxi drivers I’ve ever encountered—either as a client, or in traffic—match that description.

If you happen to leave anything in a cab, it’s lost forever. You never know who’s your driver—you don’t know their name, unless you ask to see the cabbie permit (which most people don’t do). You can’t rate them and thus you don’t know how well or poorly rated they are. And since there is no rating system, they don’t have to do anything to offer you a pleasant ride. They just want to get you out of their cars to get the next customer.

There is no record of which cab you rode, who was your driver, how much you spent (if you pay cash, which many people do), which route you took, etc. And, even though taxi drivers say they’re “official” and thus not “strangers,” well, they certainly aren’t friends either. And since they’re completely unidentifiable, I would say that makes them more of strangers than the ones who can be identified.

The fact is, the need for ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft is the direct result of the incredible poor service the taxi companies offer. If the taxi companies offered a service that is competitive and sufficient to their clientele, the rideshare services would have never gotten so popular. It’s a very basic principle of a free market—the competitor who offers the best service gets the most clients. Therefore it’s completely unfair for anyone to assert that rideshare companies are stealing clients from the “real” taxis—by the same logic, it would be unfair for, let’s say, T-Mobile to board clients who previously used Sprint. As it is the customer’s right to choose the service provider of their preference, based on whatever subjective reasons they might have, the rideshare companies aren’t stealing anything; quite the opposite, they’re expanding a market by offering a competitive service that clients prefer to “the other guys.”

The more idiotic are some cities’ efforts to curb the growth of ridesharing services, or even outright ban them. For example, in New York, the communist mayor Bill De Blasio wants to set a cap of 25,000 Uber cars in the city. Considering there are 22,000 Uber drivers in San Francisco, a city of 800,000, one struggles to understand how could a cap of 25,000 drivers benefit anyone in a city of 10 million? Of course, in the case of New York City, the taxi commission appears to be a major sponsor of the city’s Democrats—and of course, those same Democrats who run the city couldn’t possibly do anything to harm their sponsor. But the truth of the matter is, when a governing body makes decisions that are detrimental to the people they’re governing, they will not last in their office for very long. One can only hope that this principle applies even to such a heavily Democratic city as NYC—the longer the pattern of harm, the more people come to realize who are the ones who are doing the harm.

In further defense of the ridesharing industry, it’s also worth to mention that even though taxi drivers these days have bumper stickers saying “Uber/Lyft, finally jobs for registered sex offenders,” the truth is, taking a rideshare car is probably safer than a taxi. As previously mentioned, taxi drivers aren’t identifiable unless you really take a look at their license and make a note of it. Rideshare drivers can all be identified—you always know the name and the rating of the driver, and if anything should happen, you can always complain to the company. And since it’s always known who was the driver and who was the passenger, finding the rotten apples is a hell of a lot easier than with taxis.

Uber and Lyft insignia on a car. Services like these should be encouraged.

Uber and Lyft insignia on a car. Services like these should be encouraged.

Moreover, unlike taxi drivers, the rideshare drivers are carefully vetted. Their backgrounds are checked, their cars are inspected, and the companies take the safety of the passengers very seriously. There’s a lot smaller chance of riding with a “registered sex offender” in a rideshare car than in a taxi. And, since you know the name of your driver even before they arrive, the taxi driver’s other favorite bumper sticker, “Didn’t your mother tell you not to ride with strangers,” is more about those anonymous cabbies themselves, rather than the fully identifiable—and friendly—rideshare drivers.

Rideshare companies fill an important void in the market, and they are here to stay. Until the taxi companies and commissions fully transform themselves to competitive entities who can be preferred in a free and open market, they have no right to complain. And the authorities should realize this on their own—instead of trying to ban or curb the rideshare companies and their growth, they should embrace competition, new technology and making their people’s lives easier.

Because now Mrs. Johnson can get home. And Mr. Thompson can ride in a car together with his service dog.

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Windows 10—positively surprising

It’s been a couple of years since I last saw or used Windows. Back then it was my office operating system, Windows 7. I remember when it was first released, I tried it out and was quite surprised at Microsoft’s accomplishment, even though it looked like Microsoft had tried really hard to copy OS X when they designed the 7. But that was all right, as the end result was, at least after the miseries of many previous versions of the Microsoft operating system, a huge step forward. Windows 7 was—and probably still is—quite pleasant to use.

So when I had to use Windows 7 at work, I was quite grateful it wasn’t Vista, another Microsoft FUBAR that made millions of people’s lives miserable every day. Indeed, people who were using Vista at the time were envious of the new employees who got their hands onto newer PCs with Windows 7 pre-installed. But at the end of the day, I still went home to my MacBook and turned on the operating system I most enjoyed using—OS X.

The thing about OS X is, it’s faster and prettier than Windows, and, most importantly, it does not crash when you’re just about to save your work, but haven’t yet. Also, OS X is, whether due to its built-in measures or the fact that virus makers don’t bother writing malware for less used OSs, quite secure. I mean, you can have an antivirus program installed on your Mac, but truth be told, you don’t really have to, even though these days there are more viruses for OS X, too.

And now that my Mac is my everyday tool, I haven’t even looked at Windows. I let Windows 8 go by unnoticed, especially because of all the reports on how unimaginably shitty it was. Not for a second was I even curious. However, now that Windows 10 came out, I actually was curious. After having read a few reviews, most importantly the one in the Wall Street Journal where the writer, a Mac user, says she’s fallen in love with Windows again after a month of using it. Another review I read said that one of the best laptops to run Windows 10 on is, indeed, the MacBook—something the WSJ article also mentions. So my curiosity got the best of me and I decided to try it out.

The easiest way to test drive Windows on your Mac is via a virtual machine. Programs like VirtualBox (free) or VMWare (not free) enable you to create a virtual machine within your OS X and run different operating systems pretty much like any native apps. You can, of course, create a dual boot machine where your Windows and OS X both reside on your hard drive, but for that you would need to repartition your hard drive and you will be stuck with a startup menu to choose which operating system you’d want to use. And, with a 256GB hard drive, who has the space for that.

So, I chose VirtualBox and created a 20-gigabyte virtual machine to test out the new Windows. The good thing is, you can try Windows for 30 days for free, after which you will have to pay for whichever version of Windows you want to keep using. Windows 10 is technically free, but it’s only free if you own a previous version of Windows, otherwise you have to cough up $100-$200, depending on the version you want.

You can also test drive the new Office 2016 for 30 days for free. The catch is, however, that unlike Office 2016 for Mac, the Windows version is still in beta. Nevertheless, I am writing this very blog post on Word 2016 for Windows.

Installing Windows 10 is a really painless process, even though on a virtual machine it takes too damn long. But after making the initial choices of location, language and whatnot, you can pretty much sit back and relax (pun intended, even though I don’t think I’ve seen this phrase since Windows 98) like it’s always been with Windows (and OS X, too).

This is the Windows 10 lock screen, displayed, for some reason, right after booting up. Click anywhere and you'll arrive to the login screen.

This is the Windows 10 lock screen, displayed, for some reason, right after booting up. Click anywhere and you’ll arrive to the login screen.

When the installation finishes, the settings you have to set are fairly straightforward, too. You can now connect your operating system directly to your Microsoft account, and from then on, when you log into your computer, you use the same password that you use for other Microsoft services (like, OneDrive or Skype for that matter).

You can log in to Windows using your Microsoft account credentials.

You can log in to Windows using your Microsoft account credentials.

One of the most amazing aspects about Windows 10 is its boot time. From the moment I start the virtual machine to the login screen, it only takes a few seconds—quite comparable to starting up to OS X. But when the newer OS X operating systems take a few to load all your settings and apps after logging in, Windows does this in a few seconds, too. I would say, therefore, that it takes less time to boot up Windows 10 than OS X to the point you can start working.

Once you've logged in, you see an empty desktop. By default, the Recycle Bin was still there, but you can remove it.

Once you’ve logged in, you see an empty desktop. By default, the Recycle Bin was still there, but you can remove it.

Microsoft’s new web browser, Edge, is nothing new really, just IE in a new outfit. Works pretty much like any web browser these days, even though sometimes it seems it takes a while to load some websites. And, a major downside is there’s no adblocking plugins available for Edge.

My Twitter feed on Microsoft's new browser, Edge.

My Twitter feed on Microsoft’s new browser, Edge.

The Internet Explorer hasn’t vanished, though. Probably because Edge’s rendering issues you can open a website you’re viewing with IE—just choose the option from the menu in the right-hand upper corner.

For some peculiar reason Windows isn’t including Skype in the base installation. Maybe the reason is the outcome of the European lawsuits that have banned bundling software like this for the sake of freedom of choice. In any case, you do get a shortcut called “Get Skype” that lets you download the latest version of the communication app quickly.

You can also “Get Office,” but the productivity suite isn’t, naturally, free.

Windows 10 boasts a new start menu in the lower left-hand corner—something that was apparently missing from Windows 8 (as I said earlier, I have never even touched Windows 8). The menu itself functions like it used to in the past, but now you can pin your favorite apps to it to easily find and start them. Like before, you can pin your apps onto the taskbar as well.

You can pin your most used apps on the start menu to access them quickly.

You can pin your most used apps on the start menu to access them quickly.

There are apps for connecting with your XBox or at least its online service—I don’t have a gaming console, so I can’t test this out, nor am I really interested. But what is, indeed, brilliant from Microsoft’s part is that you can connect to your iPhone or iPad with your Windows 10, and sync everything as if you were working on a Mac. On the other hand, Microsoft’s Mail app, nor Outlook 2016, can connect to your Apple iCloud account for anything other than email—if you have your calendars and contacts on iCloud, you’re pretty much left in the cold there.

Speaking of apps, there are dedicated ones for Facebook and Twitter —something that OS X lacks (or, well, there are something, but they are really useless). Now, these apps, that you can download for free from the Windows Store, aren’t particularly well designed, but if you want to reduce your browser load and divert it to other apps, they definitely do that.

All in all, Windows 10, for me, is a bigger surprise than Windows 7 was back in 2009. When Windows 7 looked great and worked great, Windows 10 takes one step forward and gives you an ultra-fast power tool that can pretty much become your digital life. Don’t get me wrong—I think OS X is all that, too. It’s just Windows 10 does it… in a different way—in a new and pleasing-to-the-eye way.

Microsoft Word 2016 looks really beautiful on Windows.

Microsoft Word 2016 looks really beautiful on Windows.

Of course, the next logical step for Microsoft would be making its operating system free for all, like OS X is. Not just upgrades, but new downloads, too. Naturally I realize it would be a long shot because, unlike Apple, Microsoft does not produce all the hardware its OS works on, and thus cannot subsidize its manufacturing costs like Apple can. But it would be nice—if Windows were free, I would, actually, install it on my MacBook as a second operating system, at least until I get bored with it.

9.5/10 (And it’s the same score I would give to OS X. On that scale, Windows 7, right when it came out in 2009, would’ve gotten 9/10.)

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The breakfast of champions

No, this is not about the book. I don’t even like Vonnegut.

This is about a recipe I invented. A spicy, healthy breakfast, certain to tingle your taste buds.

What you need:

1 medium potato
1 medium green jalapeño pod
3 slices of turkey bacon
egg whites
3-4 cloves of garlic
some spring onions

Chop the potato into small pieces. One might say potatoes aren’t necessarily healthy, but they do contain a fair amount of dietary fiber, which is good for your digestive system.

Add some water on the frying pan and heat it up. Put the potato pieces on the pan and let ‘em roast a bit.

Meanwhile, chop the jalapeño pod into round cuts. Leave the seeds in, they add spice. Add them onto the pan.

Now finely chop the garlic and add it into the rest of the food. Stir a bit and leave to simmer. The water will eventually vaporize, but that’s fine. Also, chop the spring onions and add them, too.

Half-way there.

Half-way there.

Then cut the turkey bacon into pieces and add to the pan. Turkey bacon and ham usually don’t contain much fat, but nevertheless try to find the bacon with the smallest possible fat content.

Add salt, pepper, dill to taste. Let the food fry a bit, but leave the potato slightly raw, even more raw than al dente. This way you will get more fiber from the vegetable.

Finally, add the egg white. You can separate the whites and yellows from actual eggs, but I find it easier to just buy liquid egg whites.

Stir properly and let the egg whites turn into scramble.

Almost ready.

Almost ready.

And here you go, your food is ready for consumption.

Just beware—the end result can be extraordinarily spicy. The hotness of the jalapeño equally distributes into every other ingredient, so in order to fully enjoy it you really have to like spicy food.

On the other hand, though, jalapeño is a good antioxidant, so even if you don’t feel deep love for it, this meal is excellent for your digestive system and thus for your entire body. Actually, the more jalapeño you use, the better it later cleans your gut.

Let's eat!

Let’s eat!

Oh, and if you need a dessert afterwards, then an apple makes a great one. For a drink, I recommend ice water, or, if you’re having breakfast after a morning workout as I usually do, a drink of whey protein mixed with ice water makes an excellent companion.

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